Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Barthes at 100

At the TLS, Neil Badmington on a spate of recent celebrations and biographical projects on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roland Barthes. Lots of great stuff here (the intellectual milieu that totally absorbed my late teens!), but I especially wish I could get to this exhibit at the BnF:
The heart of the exhibition is in the adjoining Galerie des donateurs – a small, quiet, dimly lit room. Moving anti-clockwise around eighteen glass cases containing materials from the BnF’s Barthes archive, we follow the painstaking and painful development of A Lover’s Discourse, which was a bestseller in France when it was published in 1977. (Samoyault reveals that 70,000 copies were sold in the first year alone.) From an intimate “journal amoureux” whose pages record a series of personal incidents from the summer of 1974, through reading and teaching notes (Goethe, Plato), filing systems, diaries, pages from the book’s manuscript and eventually the corrected typescript, the final text unfurls. Its roots in a life and a love are laid bare, as is the physicality of Barthes’s method of working: ink colour changes often, as do writing instruments and materials; new passages are taped or stapled over existing text; different forms of index are sketched and re-sketched; a heavy blue marker pen strikes out unwanted phrases, such as five lines of commentary on Stéphane Mallarmé’s Pour un tombeau d’Anatole which did not appear in the published book. Punctuating these preparatory materials are artworks produced by Barthes during the period in question, while headphones at the far end of the gallery play music by Schubert, Brahms, Schumann and Fauré. (Barthes was an amateur pianist.)

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